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You would imagine that the lead actor behind a thrilling web series such as ‘The Family Man’ would have all the answers and give you the closure that you desperately seek. But no such luck as we tracked down Indian National Award-winning actor Manoj Bajpayee, who won us over with his cracking act as a smooth Intelligence agent in the show streaming on Amazon Prime.

Does Srikant Tiwari (Bajpayee) and his over-worked team save his country from a potentially fatal chemical attack and thwart terrorists? Did his wife Suchitra, played by Priyamani, end up having a clandestine affair with her dishy colleague right under his nose?

“Honestly, I don’t know. I have been asking these same questions to Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK [the writer-director duo of ‘The Family Man’] who are in London now,” said Bajpayee, whose series has been picked up for a second season.

While he may not have all the answers, it’s safe to say that his turn as Srikant Tiwari — the glib intelligence officer struggling to sort out his work and family matters — was embraced.

“‘The Family Man’ is an amazing tribute to the common man ... That man who goes to work by train and has day-to-day struggles of work and family,” said Bajpayee in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid!.

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He plays Tiwari who is a part of a highly secretive antiterrorism agency Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell (T.A.S.C) under the National Intelligence Agency, a federal unit that was formed in Indian after 2008 Mumbai terror attacks for combating terror. While he’s lethal at his job, his wife and children aren’t aware of the grave job he does. His family life is unravelling and his country is at risk, but what made 'The Family Man' endearing is its motley of endearing characters and realistic treatment. He’s no super spy with fancy gadgets and guns. Srikant and team make mistakes and their fallibility makes the series searingly real.

“‘The Family Man’ is a prime example of how we can experiment with grey sides of its main characters and include several conflicting ideas. It’s engaging and disturbing,” said Bajpayee.

Based on a series of actual terroist activities that ripped India over the years, 'The Family Man' is a grim and sobering spy thriller series.

Excerpts from our interview with Bajpayee as we talk about his lead character and the hit series ...

What about Srikant Tiwari and ‘The Family Man’ attracted you the most?

I liked him. It’s a simple answer. I liked him a lot. While the show breaks all stereotypes about intelligence agents, all of it could be just theory and intellectual talk. No matter how complex the role is or how great the story is, it is a personal choice when it comes to choosing a role. ‘The Family Man’ was all that and it went beyond being just another series on an OTT platform. In a simple way, it follows a unique story of a man who is leading his life on several plains. It is the story of a common man. Forget about him being an intelligence serviceman, ‘The Family Man’ is an amazing tribute to the common man in India — the ones who go to work on a train and has day-to-day struggle which begins as soon as he gets up from bed or leaves office. His struggles don’t end there. It stops only when he is sleeping. These men are somehow managing to get by, while trying to please each and every one in their proximity.

The beauty of ‘The Family Man’ is that the characters are fallible and don’t mind wearing their vulnerabilities on their sleeves …

But nobody was trying to be deliberately fallible. There are so many instances where they show that the intelligence agents lead ordinary lives. They are trying to survive and make ends meet. You also feel that these men are different in personalities in different areas in their lives. For instance, Srikant is a different man when he gets posted in Kashmir. You almost feel you are seeing a different guy on the screen then. He comes into his own. But while he’s back home with his family, he’s just busy working and everyday life gets to him. But in Kashmir, he meets his ex-girlfriend who’s also his colleague now. He feels the need to prove himself again and feels somehow motivated to do the job that’s he is supposed to.

One of the most appealing parts about ‘The Family Man’ is that it’s a thriller, but has interesting modern day relationship dynamics… Spying on your wife and who’s she going to meet for lunch …

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Manoj Bajpayee with Vedant Sinha and Mehek Thakur in 'The Family Man'. Image Credit: Amazon Prime Video

You don’t question them, do you? There’s some genius writing there. It is wrong on so many levels and parts. It was wrong on his part to use official facilities to spy on his wife. He then interrupts his wife’s meeting and that’s wrong on a another level altogether. But the beauty of ‘The Family Man’ is that you don’t put them in boxes. They are not black and white characters, there are strong greys in each one of the characters. Their problematic way of functioning, you take it a bit lightly. The genius of ‘The Family Man’ lies in weaving those greys naturally into its script.

The show is surprisingly sanitised despite handling mature content and violence...

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While I am all for the freedom of creative liberty, I feel writers Raj and DK are so creative and ingenious when it comes to telling their story. Ideally, the censors should never meddle with the creative licensing and the responsibility should be given to the filmmakers. Here Raj and DK could have chosen to show a rollicking, sexually-charged encounter between my [character Srikant] wife and her colleague. But they chose not to. They chose to keep it under wraps and that’s the beauty of it all. Even I don’t whether anything happened between them. They are yet to send the script [season 2] to me. Similarly, the scenes between Moosa and the nurse could have been sexually graphic and the action scenes could have been horrific, but they chose a different way. Not because they didn’t know how to be graphic. But the way Raj and DK put their creativity into action is unique to them and that’s being appreciated by each and every one.

Srikant Tiwari has almost become a cult figure when it comes to lying glibly...

Ok, let’s face it. Everybody lies. No matter how much morality you peddle, everyone does it to suit their own convenience. And when you are lying, the idea is not to get caught in action. I am not here to judge anyone. But I can tell you that there’s a definite craft involved in portraying someone who lies a lot. As he’s about to get caught, Srikant manages to skid past it. The skill of an actor and craft emerges when you make it look natural and not exaggerated. I wanted to add another dimension to Srikant. It was not just playing to the gallery.

But you downplayed your star-wattage?

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In this country [India], Srikant Tiwari has become a cult character of sorts. All the departments involved in ‘The Family Man’ stayed true to the script and did their assigned job. We never tried to get away from the soul of the story. The directors are in London and the second season is definitely in.

How many hours in a day did you work for ‘The Family Man’? Was it tough to disconnect to your character after the season wrap?

At least 13 to 14 hours, sometimes longer. It’s a tough job and working in a series goes on for months. But there was no sense of fatigue, like you asked. Disconnecting from a character doesn’t bother actors like us. We get into something else quickly and your focus shifts to the role you are doing next. It’s all about being an actor.

Did you audition for the role?

After 35 years, do you think I should audition?

It’s a common practice in the West, Hollywood?

I don’t think so. That’s just a myth. If there’s a role that’s going to another actor, the interested actor may say, “Audition me and if you think I am good for the role”.

Do you think viewers have become more discerning now?

People are not averse to any genre as long as it’s engaging them. That’s the only yardstick now — be it mainstream or offbeat films. But even today, Hindi films are not given that much space or leverage when it comes to distribution. Often, films don’t reach the audiences. It’s very difficult to get distribution and small films are given limited number of shows and are butchered, treated badly.

Is it still so bad now?

It’s only getting worse. There’s no distributor for my film ‘Gali Guleiyan’ and I read somewhere that director Hansal Mehta’s ‘Omerta’ has no takers on OTT platforms. Why live in a fool’s paradise? Don’t think that great films are lauded and welcomed by OTT platforms. Even OTT platforms choose films that they think will grab eyeballs and subscriptions.


Don’t Miss It!

‘The Family Man’ is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Did you know?

- Samantha Akkineni, a massive star in South India, is likely to appear in the second season of 'The Family Man'. The actress or the show's creators are yet to confirm the rumour.

- Neeraj Madhav, who plays a key role in the series, has acted in several Malayalam blockbusters including 'Drishyam', starring Mohanlal.